A study by the Independent Institute of Education (IIE) has found that two of the biggest challenges facing higher education students during the pandemic have been lack of peer contact and poor motivation.
The study involved students from eight private universities and 14 public universities across the country and asked them about their lockdown learning experience.
“As we prepare to launch into a new academic year inthis March, lessons learned from last year will provide a valuable roadmap for the future, given that we will continue for the foreseeable future to face many of the same challenges we encountered in 2020,” said IIE director Dr Felicity Coughlan.
According to the study, a big problem for students is not being able to interact with their peers, with over 40% citing this as their biggest concern.
Many students also found the transition to online learning difficult which in turn led to a loss in motivation.
Interestingly, less than 24% of respondents cited fees as a barrier during lockdown while only 29% brought up problems with data access.
Lack of support from universities was also raised, with 27% of respondents listing it as a concern.
“The focus for higher education institutions this year must be on two fronts: ensuring consistency and effectiveness of teaching and learning, as well as providing the crucial support students need,” said Coughlan.
“Students expressed a need for safety, consistency, security and predictability, and as we head into another uncertain academic year, effort must be made to address these concerns.
“Additionally, while students want the transmission of knowledge by, for instance, coming to class and writing down what the lecturer says, they also need active learning where they are invloved and engaged with learning materials.
“So online platforms where lecturers try to mirror what is happening in class without active engagement will be less effective.
“This is because students are inclined to disengage more readily when they are not visible to the lecturer, who then is not in a position to respond to the disengagement.”
Another interesting finding of the study, according to Coughlan, was that only 65% of public university students felt that their online learning experience was preparing them to be successful in the workplace.
“I am just worried about how this mess will translate by the time we start working,” one respondent said.
“As private higher education institutions and public universities, we need to ensure that we not only respond to our ongoing crisis effectively and resiliently as possible on an academic front, but also that we provide the necessary support for students to prepare them to enter the workplace with confidence, and equip them with the important non-academic skills they will need to thrive in a changing world,” said Coughlan.